April 2007 Election: Whose Vote? How Void?

The 2007 election in this nation of about 140 million people fell below acceptable standards. The system had failed the Nigerian people. The mood after Nigeria’s 2007 election was that of anger and dejection. Many felt we missed another opportunity to create and foster an acceptable democratic tradition since the elections were massively rigged even in the face of million of dollars spent by the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) on ICT infrastructure to ensure transparency in the voting process. I was snapped. My thumbprint was scanned. I was even asked to verify if the information in the system about me was correct. I didn’t know that all those exercise were mere waste of time. The man that was declared winner in my ward could never have won for the simple reason that he never came to campaign in this area. He was not known and we could never have voted for a spirit. But INEC and their computers said we voted for a spirit.

Right now, I am confused to dictate the direction we are going. In those days when I was tender, everything politics was military; by the time I was graduating from the university, Democracy came in shape. Despite all the sacrifices laid to enthrone this rule, today again, Nigeria’s democracy turns critical. The April 2007 elections alone were supposed to foreclose that we are moving higher, step on the people’s government ladder and at the same time, create a more conducive environment to resolve our overdue conflicts as well as strengthening its credentials as a pacified nation, generated serious new problems that may be pushing it further towards the status of a ruin nation.

Owing to what we had passed through, in the past; -tyrant government brutalities, we were not expecting the vote to flaw since unanimously we booted the military government away. Yar’Adua Government quite good, but the pain is the process it went to emerge. The masses were not siding third term agenda nor Obasanjo’s “fox” mentalities but were longing to wish any regime that defame “Obasanjo-ness” in our presidential affinity either by name-dropping or by failed contracts. Because election’s vote in Africa’s number one crude oil producing country, and the world’s seventh largest exporter, was supposed to usher in a new era and not Obasanjo linage in rule. We felt the first democratic transition in the country’s history since independence 47 years ago could be that of April 2007, but were aggrieved over the outcome. Nigerians were eager to see one elected civilian president peacefully handing power over to another duly elected leader after decades of military rule. But it looks as if our latest, disputed experiment with democracy could end up with a legal challenge in court.

The declared winner and the president of this nation, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, assumed the leadership on 29 May last year with less legitimacy than any previously elected president and so with less capacity to moderate and resolve its violent domestic conflicts. He should act urgently to heal wounds, redress electoral injustice and punish the most grievous voting frauds, including those by officials of the agencies directly involved in administering the elections. To salvage his government’s legitimacy, he needs to pursue policies of inclusiveness and restraint in relation to the opposition, accept the decisions of the tribunals (including the Supreme Court if need be) reviewing the petitions of defeated candidates, and embark on a vigorous electoral reform program.

But Buhari, considered the leading opposition presidential candidate, had run against President Olusegun Obasanjo in the 2003 election, has not accepted the results of the April 2007 election calling on the authorities to probe Olusegun Obasanjo. Another rival and former vice president Alhaji Atiku Abubakar described it as “the worst election ever in Nigeria, claiming that the government had “no alternative than to cancel the election altogether, rejecting it outright! There was even criticism from within Obasanjo’s ranks. Senate President Ken Nnamani, the third most senior government official, said widespread irregularities would leave a “legacy of hatred and a crisis of legitimacy for the winner.

A late start on Election Day was caused by the last-minute printing of fresh ballots to include the name of Atiku, the ex- vice president. Atiku has for the past two years been locked in a political feud with Obasanjo. He stood as an opposition Action Congress (AC) presidential candidate in that election. But before then, the Supreme Court overruled a decision by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to disqualify Atiku from the race. The ex-vice president was facing corruption charges that the INEC disqualified his candidacy. The decision left just 48 hours to print 65 million new presidential ballots including Atiku’s name in South Africa. The ballots had to be flown to Nigeria and distributed to more than 100,000 polling stations across the country, amidst crumbling infrastructure.

After the presidential vote, Nigeria‘s Election Chairman Maurice Iwu declared that INEC deserved to give itself a huge pat on the back. He attributed an emergency and a resounding response to the emergency at his own best; He bragged that no other country in the world could do it better. He claimed that INEC were able to print 65 million ballot papers in three days, had them flown into this country and distributed for an election.

But many Nigerians feel it was much too early for Iwu to congratulate himself and his devious INEC instrument. We argue that all the fuss and bother, and delay in distributing ballots, might have been avoided in the first place had the INEC done its homework. INEC in Iwu’s platform argued that the corruption charges Atiku faced automatically excluded him from running and, so, left his name off the ballot. Some say the electoral commission was pandering to political pressure from ex-President Obasanjo to keep Atiku from running. Atiku and Obasanjo have been at loggerheads since the ex-vice president opposed moves to extend the ex-president’s tenure past the constitutional two-term limit, breaking ranks with the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP). What came to be known as the “third term” bid failed after Nigeria‘s Senate threw out the ruling party’s proposal to amend the constitution?

As a result, Obasanjo was forced to bow out of office after the elections last year. The ex-president was reportedly furious, and he and his thwarted supporters labeled the ex-vice president a political traitor. Atiku claimed he was the target of a witch-hunt by Obasanjo and his presidential entourage. Observers say the ex-president tried every possible maneuver to exclude Atiku from the presidential race. The ex-vice president said the corruption allegations he is facing are trumped up, politically motivated and engineered by Obasanjo. The contention between Obasanjo and Atiku has poisoned the political waters leading up to April 2007 presidential vote and the National Assembly elections, as well as state government polls held earlier last year.

The elections, in the view of Nigerians and the many international observers alike, were the most poorly organized and massively rigged in the country’s history. In a bitterly contentious environment, ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and his cohorts in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) acted with unbridled desperation to ensure sweeping, winner-take-all victories, not only in the presidency and federal legislature but also in state governorships and assemblies. Characterized as a “do or die” battle by Obasanjo, the campaigns and elections also witnessed extensive violence; including over 200 people were killed.

The European Union, who had 150 observers monitoring Nigeria’s presidential and legislative elections, agreed that the poll have fallen far short of basic international and regional standards for democratic elections and cannot be considered to have been credible. Several candidates are speaking out in protest amid concerns that Nigeria‘s presidential election April 2007 was flawed.

The Initial results, which came in that Sunday night, gave an early lead to the ruling party’s candidate, Umaru Yar’Adua. Already the two main opposition candidates, the ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar, and former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari, have indicated that they want the vote scrapped. Balloting was held Saturday after a two-hour delay, but polling stations in some parts of the country took many hours longer to get up and running. There were reports of violence in some areas. Buhari contended that the results in INEC’s Forms EC8 (A) and EC8E (the presidential election results sheets from the states and the final results) were arbitrarily assigned without any election at the base.

Atiku and Buhari have deemed the poll deeply flawed and have called for a new election. It was impossible to use the result from half the country to announce a new president, because voting was delayed for hours and did not happen at all in a number of areas. Buhari said that the INEC awarded the electoral victory in favour of the PDP, Umaru Yar’Adua and Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. He claimed the proof bias in INEC, acting through its staff and agents, by showing that wherever anything was done wrongly, it was done in favour of the assumed winners. As well as the proof that the voters’ register was so irregular that even photos of children featured in many, and that some were in foolscap sheets.

But it was not technology that failed Nigerians as the song among the folks tend to suggest. It was the people entrusted with the task of ensuring that Nigeria had an honest vote count that ensured that technology was used to achieve ulterior motives. There is increasing consensus on the big positive change ICT could impact on Africa’s budding democracy. But the debate has remained on how fast and to what level African governments want ICT to promote democratic diffusion. Those in governments have come to accept that ICT could improve how people relate to the government and how they participate in governance. But only few governments appear ready to invest the required willpower beside the financial commitments.

For instance, in Nigeria’s last election, over $200 million was spent on deploying ICT in ensuring a more accurate election process that would ensure that as many people as possible exercise their franchise in urban, rural and very remote communities. With massive cases of fraud, rigging, false representation of results, that election has remained one of the worst ever in Nigeria’s recent history.

A damning report by the EU – Economic Union – Election Observer Group has affirmed the election as a sham. Besides, about 8 governors, more than 45 legislators at state and national levels have had their elections quashed by election tribunals to underscore the massive fraud of the 2007 national and state elections. The nation’s $200 million went into purchasing no less than 10,000 laptops and PCs for field election workers and other electoral officers to help in the collation of results. The money also covered software for fast, seamless collation; scanning and visual hardware to take record of voters’ thumbprints as well as provide snapshots of each voting adult to be fed into a central database accessible for collation processes.

The systems with electoral staff in scattered locations were connected to a central server at INEC’s head offices in Abuja and other capital cities through another major connectivity contract awarded to Reltel Wireless, a Lagos based telecom company. Reltel was assigned the $50 million task of providing links through VSAT and landline backbone, were feasible, to all of INEC’s systems or local networks. The whole idea was to link all of the NEC’s local networks as well as provide a robust framework under which election data from different locations could easily be accessed. The country has never implemented an ICT project of such magnitude for its elections and so there was high hope that the 2007 election would be the freest ever.

Ironically, it turned out to be the worst. As Abubakar Rimi, politician and former governor of Kano State, put it, technology is only a part of it, as critical as technology is to great changes; people remain the most fundamental of all the factors. “People would use technology for good or manipulate it for a pre-determined selfish result. In Nigeria’s case, they didn’t allow technology to work well. It was manipulated for an already designed selfish end that was injurious to the health of the nation.” Rimi was one of the founding fathers of the country’s main political party, the People Democratic Party (PDP).

Written by
L.Chinedu Arizona-Ogwu
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